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Byron’s Epic Swims: Leaving England

Lord Byron, about to do something spectacularThough most famous for his poetry, war heroics, and womanizing, Lord Byron’s greatest achievements all took place in the water.

He was born with a deformity in his right foot, or as it was so sensitively known in the 18th and 19th centuries, a “club foot”. This physical imperfection caused Bryon at least as much psychological pain as it did physical pain, and though he limped, it was often not noticeable to casual observers. Still, he was aware of this limitation, and he overcompensated wildly, throwing himself into violent exercise, trying to play cricket (surely something one does only because of a serious psychological problem), and by swimming.

In the water, his malformed foot became an asset, as it worked much like a flipper. In the water, Lord Byron found that he was at least as god-like as he was while composing romantic poetry, or shocking the British public with his wanton pursuit of married women and other (male) poets. After all, it was this scandalous lifestyle that forced Byron to abandon the UK.

Lord Bryon's first epic swim

In his first epic swim, Byron did the breast-stroke down the Thames River, the back-stroke along the coastline to Dover, and then he did a truly breathtaking sprint of butterfly across the English channel. From there he swam up the coast to the low countries (stopping in the evenings to woo eligible young French, Belgian and Dutch poetry aficionados.) At the mouth of the Rhine, Byron took a hard right turn and did front crawl, until he arrived at Strasbourg. (As far as historians have been able to recreate, this is the single longest swim he did in one go.) He spent a few days recovering in Strasbourg, and then made a series of short frenetic dog-paddles against a strong current, passing Basel, and then making another hard right up the River Aare, as far as Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland. He had heard that his personal physician, John William Polidori was holidaying on Lake Geneva (aka Lake Leman), so he took a short carriage-ride overland. It was there he met Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin (who would later marry Shelley), and Claire Claremont.

When he wasn’t buggering Percy Bysshe senseless, and seducing the other guests at the Villa (he has some measure of success, except with Mary), Byron kept in shape by swimming the length of the lake. (It was also here that the Shelleys, Byron, and the others helped Mary begin writing Frankenstein, and Polidori was inspired to write Vampyre, arguably the first young adult vampire film. Byron was apparently the model for the seductive, super-powerful vampire.)

So Byron rested and recovered, which was a good thing, because soon he would start one of his most ambitious swims ever, through the Alps, from Switzerland to Venice.

Alltop prefers the wading pool. Originally published May, 2012.

Coordinates to Landing Zone XI

image of Da Vinci's The Last Supper

Famous Painting with SF Titles: Coordinates to Landing Zone XI

No doubt this painting is known to you by the title given to it by humans, L’Ultima Cena (The Last Supper). Purportedly, this work depicts the final meal eaten by Jesus and his apostles, specifically, the moment when Jesus reveals to them that one of them will betray him. They are shocked and outraged. Some of them faint. Judas looks particularly suspicious, and spills the salt. Yes, there’s tons of Christian interpretations for this painting, but they’re all just a cover for Da Vinci’s true purpose.

Da Vinci was the only surviving member of an advanced scouting party from the Betelgeuse Continuum, and he was starting to worry that all of his hard scouting work might go to waste. He had been living on Earth for many years, and the rest of his party had all succumbed to the dangers of Renaissance-age Italy: disease, poor hygiene, and of course, poetry. (The bipedal races of Betelgeuse have very low resistance to rhyming couplets.) He was legitimately worried that he might die before he could pass along his intelligence. And so, he had begun a great career of painting and sculpture to transmit his secrets to the Vanguard Fleet, which would no doubt come any day.

As many have speculated, this painting does have secret meaning. Dan Brown is way off. And there’s no hidden grail symbolism in it either. Giovanni Maria Pala had the theory that the position of the bread and hands represent the notes on a staff of music. This is the closest to the truth, for embedded withing the painting are the coordinates to what Da Vinci called “Landing Zone XI” — or LZ11, as it’s known to those of us in one of the secret societies devoted to preventing the coming Betelegeusian invasion. (This also explains the degradation of the painting.)

I would tell you where LZ11 is, but then the Betelgeusians would know, and that damned meddler Da Vinci would win.

To check out the gallery of SF Paintings with SF Titles, click here.

Alltop prefers Michelangelo.

9 old words for the modern age

Old manuscript page and the letter g


The use or choice of words.

This post is a meditation on vocabulation, particularly, old words that we may want to revivify for our current age of the Internet and excess.


The # symbol.

I learned this one from one of my journalism students who believes this is a much better term than “hashtag” and I agree. Do you? Then let’s get an octothorpe about this started on Twitter!


Throw through or out of the window.

This word is better-known than many of the others on this list, but I’m including it because it’s still pretty obscure. I learned it when I lived in Prague, and was shown by a helpful tour guide at the Castle where certain politicians were “defenestrated”, i.e., thrown out of a window, when their services were no longer required. Perhaps this is a term we should put back in practice?


A bad habit or custom; a vice [c. 900-1400]; unthewed, ill-mannered, unruly, wanton [1200- late 1300s], unthewful, unmannerly, unseemly [c. 1050-early 1300s].

This strikes me as a useful word that we could use a bit more while we’re looking at some of the crazy behavior we see, especially on the Internet. So the next time you spot a troll, you can call them “unthew” to put them in their place and confuse them at the same time.

Humbug, hoax, pretense; [from] nineteenth-century French.

This one is particularly useful, given how much of this we have to deal with on the net.


A glutton; one who over-indulges in and over-consumes food, drink, or intoxicants to the point of waste.


Food or drink that makes one idle and stupid; food with no nutritional value, junk food.

Both of these strike me as useful, given our consumerist society. Possible uses: “Dude, I was a total shumpgullion last night. Too much libberwort!”


A libertine (one who is unconstrained by convention or morality).

I like the word “libertine” but I’m always worried people think I mean the word “liberty” or “liberal” — they’re all from the same roots, of course. The use of holer is related to the previous two words, but it has the added benefit that most people will probably understand what you’re saying because of it sounds a little bit like “whore”. Of course, it’s better, because “holer” has lost its gender implications.


A low rumbling sound; hence, the motion of the bowels, produced by flatulence, attended by such a sound; borborygmus; Scotch.

Murmuring, grumbling; sometimes applied to that motion of the intestines which is produced by slight gripes. This is one of those rhythmical sort of terms for which our ancestors had a peculiar predilection. It is compounded of Suio-Gothic (the ancient language of Sweden) kurr-a, to murmur.

Okay, this one isn’t necessarily about our current age, but my theory is you can’t have enough funny ways to describe farts.

Some of these come from the excellent word-nerd blogs: Obsolete Words and A Lackadaisical Lexicon for Laggard Logophiles. If you have other favorites words and resources, please leave them in the comments!

Alltop is such a funny holer, I’m curmurring my pants.